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       Emblaze, p.14

           Jessica Shirvington
 

  After giving up on my canvas I returned to my bedroom where Steph was sprawled out on the floor. I could tell by the dark circles under her eyes and the fact she was drinking almost as much coffee as me that she hadn"t been getting much sleep lately.

  „Have you been in touch with Salvatore?" I asked from the doorway.

  „A couple of days ago. Last think I hear, he and Zoe were concocting some crazy plan."

  She threw down her pen. „He"ll probably never come back."

  I scooted down beside her and pulled her in for a hug. „Yes he will. And if he can"t find a way to get here, we will." And I meant it wholeheartedly. Right now, my only option about the Academy was, Stuff their stupid rules!

  Steph hugged me tight, then pulled away and picked up her pen and empty mug,

  „Coffee?" she asked, smiling. „I"m on the verge of getting this, I swear."

  I rolled my eyes and snatched the cup. If anyone was on the verge of a breakthrough it was Steph, but she"d been pulling that line on me for days and I was sick of being her waiter.

  On my way to the kitchen there was a knock at the door. I opened it to find Jase leaning casually against the frame. He was dressed in jeans and blue patterned shirt. He definitely had the relaxed DJ look going for him. Normal height, just a little taller than me, and a fortunate build so that even though I knew he didn"t work out, he didn"t look weedy. His best feature was his hair - the same pale blond as Steph"s - and with his blue eyes and darker brows it was striking.

  „Hey, Jase," I said, smiling.

  „Hi. Is Steph ready?"

  I shook my head. „She"s just in the middle of something. She asked me for a coffee. Are you in a rush?" If Steph was really on the verge of that breakthrough I wanted to give her a few more minutes.

  Jase shrugged and stepped into the apartment. „I"ve got some time. If you"re making coffee, too, that is." He flashed an easy-going smile back in my direction, headed straight for the kitchen and took a seat at the bar. „So, how"s school going?"

  I started making the drinks.

  „Good. Almost finished. Last exams next month and then I"ve got the Fenton course."

  „That Fenton course if pretty exclusive from what I hear - you must be good."

  I shrugged self-consciously.

  „I guess you"ll be glad to be finished with school. What"s the plan after? Uni?"

  His question completely stumped me. I"d stopped thinking about my future. Even when Dad had started harping on about it the other day, I"d just blanked it. Jase must have see the look on my face.

  „Hey, don"t stress. It"s not a trick question. A lot of people take some time after school to figure out what they want to do."

  „Is that what your doing?"

  „Maybe," he said, smiling again.

  He didn"t say any more as I finished making the coffees. I passed him a latte, hoping that he liked his coffee with milk. He took a sip.

  „So, Steph mentioned your dance is coming up next month."

  „Yeah." I wasn"t planning on going.

  „She"s still pining over that bloke who was visiting a couple of months back. Some exchange student or something …"

  Obviously her cover story to explain who Salvatore was. I nodded along.

  „Anyway …" He took another sip. „I think it"d be a shame if she didn"t go to the dance, yo know what"s she like. Only regret it, probably."

  „Probably."

  Steph had been dreaming about our end-of-school formal for as long as I"d known her.

  The girl had about four dresses on hold for the event.

  „So I was thinking, how about the three of us go together?" Jase suggested, his eyes darting away. „Unless you"re already going with someone else."

  Ah …

  Why did I feel like he was asking me for more than just a helping hand with Steph? I meant to reply, open my mouth and spit out words of some sort, but I couldn"t think of one thing to say.

  „Are you?" Jase asked.

  Ah …

  „Huh?" I finally responded, trying for confused in order to buy some time.

  „Going with someone else?" Jase repeated.

  „Oh."

  Ah …

  „No. I mean, I … I wasn"t going to go." I looked back down and grabbed Steph"s coffee. „I should …" I shuffled towards the hall and pointed to my bedroom. „I"ll just … give this to Steph."

  I went to my room and darted in, quickly closing the door behind me. „Steph!" I whispered, urgently. „I think your brother just asked me to the dance!"

  Steph was staring at a piece of paper.

  „Steph! Help!" I said again, trying not to raise my voice. „This is serious!"

  She looked up at me and I almost dropped the cup of coffee when I saw her face.

  „I"ve done it, Vi." She held up the paper.

  Suddenly, nothing else mattered. I put down the mug on my desk and sat beside Steph.

  „Is it another poem?"

  She shook her head. „Not sure."

  I took the piece of paper from her and read it.

  At the southernmost point, an island hides the gate, What once was of Atlas and also Kalliste,

  The opening brews what will never cease.

  Three to the water to entice the current

  Three to the fire to blast open their fate

  Three at the hand of the highest command

  Three at the hand of the heart of man

  Six to the ground, in return for one

  An offering of pain starts the rivers of fire And water stands high to cradle the course

  One can be beckoned

  When payment is made

  The Obolus red and blade

  At the hand of the admirer

  With only terrible desire.

  „This can"t be good.

  Steph looked grave. „Well, we knew it wasn"t the Scripture of Happiness."

  We both sat there, on the floor, staring at the prophecy that we didn"t understand, until there was a knock at the door.

  „Steph, if you need that ride home we"ve got to go. I have work in an hour." Jase sounded a little unsure calling out from the hall.

  „Oh no," I said, dropping my head into my hands.

  Steph stood up. „Trust me, babe. You"ve got bigger problems. Just tell him we"ll all go to the dance together and if actually alive by the time the dance comes around, we"ll deal with it then."

  „Steph!"

  „Just keeping it real."

  Things definitely weren"t looking good and Steph"s remark was completely true, not to mention dire. But she stood by the door, one hand on her hip, and something in me clicked.

  Steph must have felt the same way or seen my eyes light up because, simultaneously, we both cracked up.

  I"m not altogether sure if we were laughing or crying. Both, maybe. But by the time we came up for air, we were gripping our stomachs, me on the ground and Steph half collapsed against the wall.

  Jase knocked again. „Should I ask if someone"s dying in there?"

  Steph opened the door, while we were still slipping into aftershocks bouts of laughter.

  „Sorry. It"s just … Violet can be such a comedian."

  Jase looked at me and put his hand in his pockets.

  Damn.

  He thought I"d been laughing at him.

  „I … I hope you have a tux to wear," I said awkwardly.

  Jase relaxed a little and reapplied his easy smile. „Naturally."

  He was Steph"s brother and a Morris, after all. Formal events were standard procedure in his world.

  „So …" Steph said, sobered now, too, "What did you want to do about this?" She held the translation up in the air.

  „I"ll take it with me tomorrow," I said, not elaborating. Steph knew I was skipping school and I didn"t want to have to explain to Jase.

  She gave me a pointed look. "I"ll meet you in the morning then."

  I wanted to argue - she hated missing school but with Jase standing there, clea
rly knowing we were purposefully talking in code, there was little I could do.

  I smiled uncomfortably. "Okay I"ll see you then."

  -

  After I said goodbye to Jase and Steph, I collapsed on the couch. An hour or so later my eyes were bleary. I"d read and re-read the Scripture hundreds of times and could make little sense of it.

  By the time I heard the front door and Dad quietly make his way through the apartment it was late. No doubt he had a deadline looming.

  „I thought you"d be asleep," he said, startled to see me still up, sitting in the silent living room. He made his way to the coffee machine, firing it up.

  I shrugged.

  „Nothing on TV?"

  „Nah." I couldn"t remember the last time I"d just sat and watched TV.

  Dad took a deep breath and moved over to sit opposite me on the coffee table. "I know this grounding stuff is new."

  My focus fixated on my hands, intertwining my fingers and hoping Dad wasn"t going to try and have some kind of deep-and-meaningful with me.

  „What"s this?"

  I looked up. He was holding the prophecy in his hand, reading it.

  „Oh. That"s nothing. Just … Just an assignment for English."

  „Hmm," he kept reading and I sat up straighter, fighting the urge to rip it from his hands.

  „Dad, can I have it back?"

  „Hmm," he said again, still studying the text. „Who wrote this?"

  „I … I"m not sure, can"t remember."

  „I"m surprised they have you studying something like this at a Catholic school." Dad"s brow furrowed as he seemed to absorb the words with something that resembled …

  understanding.

  I tucked a few strands of hair behind my ear and tried for nonchalance. „Do you … know what it means?"

  Dad smirked. „Are you trying to get me to do you homework?"

  I played along with my own sheepish smile. „Poetry is not my strongest point."

  „Your mother hated poetry." His smile deepened. „But I always enjoyed it. Let me see."

  He looked at the words again.

  I crossed my fingers under the blanket I"d wrapped myself in.

  „Okay …" he said eventually. „“At the southernmost point, an island hides the gate, What was once of atlas and also Kalliste.” This is a location, setting the scene. If you research the word Kalliste - you might find something there.

  I nodded him on,

  „“The opening brews what will never cease.” Things that never cease are the things that are fundamental to existence. You know - nature, life, death, good and evil. It would be something like that, but “brew” as a word is not usually a positive so I would guess the thing is not nice."

  „Yeah, that makes sense," I responded and then covered the remark with a light smile.

  „”Three to the water to entice the current, Three to the fire to blast open their fate, Three at the hand of the highest command, Three at the hand of the heart of man, Six to the ground, in return for one.” This is about sacrifices to elements. It"s almost like instructions.

  And these parts - “the highest command” and “the heart of man” describe the sacrifices. I"m not sure, but “of the heart of man” would imply something to do with love or perhaps …

  hate."

  I nodded while biting hard on the inside of my cheek.

  „”An offering of pain starts the river of fire,” this is about the emotion of the moment, the investments that will be made. And “water stands high to cradle the course” - I"m not sure, but in history water has always been the way for travel between worlds or lives. Water is like a passageway, so maybe it has something to do with change. Sweetheart, this is not a Catholic-school poem," he said, starting to look more luscious. „Are you sure you"ve been asked to study this?"

  „"Yeah, we had to pick from a selection. Maybe I picked a bad one."

  „Not bad … but definitely disturbing." He cleared his throat. „Okay, let"s see. “One can be reckoned, When payment is made, The Obolus red and blade, At the hand of the admirer, With only terrible desire.” This is talking about calling someone and a payment to be made by the admirer. Red … Well, I"m sure you can guess that"s some kind of blood offering and the last line implies the admirer can have only bad intentions. It"s almost as if …" he looked at me carefully and I held his stare as calmly as I could. “If I had to guess, I would say this poem is about invoking some kind of … evil."

  I could feel the colour drain from my face. I wanted to throw myself in Dad"s arms and tell him everything. But at that moment, more than any other, I was also sure - he couldn"t know. I forced myself to breathe. I ran a hand over my face and yawned.

  „Wow. Heavy." I stretched. "Maybe I"ll choose a different poem." I stood up, trying to ignore my legs shaking under me. Thanks anyway, Dad. I think I"ll go to bed."

  I felt Dad watching me as I walked towards my room.

  I closed my door behind me knowing there was no chance I would get any sleep tonight.

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  „This I will declare and point out to you, that he who created you will destroy you."

  Book of Enoch 93:9

  Wrapped in my long black coat, which I buttoned up to conceal my lack of school uniform, I walked down the street from my apartment and around the corner before putting on my beanie, waiting five minutes and the doubling back to head in the opposite direction.

  Dad was so unpredictable at the moment - I couldn"t rule out him spying from the balcony and I couldn"t have him try and stop me from going to Hades.

  I"d texted the translation through to Griffin and Lincoln during the night. It took about five messages for me to get all of the words to them and I hoped they"d managed to piece everything together.

  They"d both texted back to tell me they would see me at Hades and when I pushed open the heavy yellow entrance door I found everyone already there, sitting around a few table that had been pushed together in the centre of the closed restaurant.

  Dapper was passing around juice and there was a tray of cups and plunger coffee in the centre of the table.

  Spence threw me a croissant as I got close. „Hey, managed your escape from Fort Eden, I see."

  I smiled. I"d been tough on Spence lately, mostly in training but he never wavered, he was always the same. I went straight up to him and gave him a big hug.

  „Ah, Eden," he squirmed. „I thought I"d made my position clear on this." He held me back at arm"s length, smiling devilishly. „I just don"t feel the same way," he said loudly and then feigned a „Sorry" smile for me.

  „And I was really holding out hope," I said, playing along.

  „Most do," Spence said, shaking his head solemnly. „Most do."

  I whacked him on the arm and took a seat beside him while Kaitlin threw half her croissant across the table, landing it right on Spence"s forehead and making us both laugh.

  Steph was standing to the side with Dapper, both speaking animatedly and over the top of one another. I got the feeling it was going to be a long day so poured a coffee and took a bite of my croissant while I cased out who else had been invited to the we"re-all-going-to-die powwow.

  Lincoln and Griffin sat at the far end of the table - of course I"d known exactly where he was from the moment I"d entered the building. Griffin gave me a look that translated to: You should be sitting up this end of the table. I looked around my end - Spence next to me, a seat spare for Steph on my other side. Onyx had made himself comfortable a couple of chairs down and I spotted him emptying something from a silver bottle into his coffee.

  Typical.

  The bruises on his face were almost completely healed. He had recovered at an impossible rate, not unlike Steph. I stared at him until he looked up and sneered at me.

  Beth and Archer at the middle of the table, chatting to each other.

  I imagined they had seen a lot in their five hundred years. Today was just another day at the office for them.

  I t
urned my attention back to the far end. Lincoln was beside Griffin. When I looked he also glance at me. We smiled at each other, just like any other friends would, but we both quickly looked away. I was breathless, as always.

  Dapper was heading in the heavy-hitter direction, and took the seat beside Griffin.

  Samuel and Kaitlin were next to Dapper and another pair of Grigori, Nathan and Becca, sat opposite. I"d only met them in passing. They worked on the outskirts of the city. Griffin had told me they were like border control and from everything he didn"t say I had assumed it was a hands-on kind of job. They were young - about the same age as Lincoln - and I knew Griffin regarded them highly as warriors. He had told me before that if it came to a fight we wanted to have them with us. The simple fact they were there spoke volumes.

  That was it - everyone that had been invited to the insiders" meeting. The most surprising attendee was Onyx. I wondered what he"d done or said to get himself on the VIP list.

  All in all, I was happy I"d chosen this end of the table - sitting between Spence and Steph was much easier than sitting between Griffin and Lincoln.

  „You okay?" Spence asked, breaking into my thoughts.

  I looked down. I was bent over in pain I"d been refusing to acknowledge, my arm wrapped around my waist.

  „Um …" Was I? „Yeah, just not feeling that great." I dropped my arm and sat up.

  „Bad time of the month?"

  „No!" I said, not bothering to protect at his jab while I tried to figure out exactly what the throbbing ache was.

  Griffin started passing sheets of paper, copies of the prophecy. I took one, even though I had the original folded in my pocket, and straightened myself out.

  „Death in verse," Spence whispered in my ear as he waggled his eyebrows.

  But despite Steph and I breaking into laughter the day before, now that I understood more of the content, I couldn"t muster a smile and instead felt the blood draining from my face.

  „Let"s start from the bottom, people," Griffin said. Then he turned to Dapper and gave him a nod.

 
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